The novel follows the life of Jacques 'Jake' Richardson, a fifty-nine-year-old Oxford don who struggles to overcome the loss of his 'libido'. The book employs the characteristics of Amis as wit and cutting social commentary such as Jake's comment that "the food wasn't much good and they were rather nasty to you, but then it cost quite a lot". It was written during Amis's rapidly souring marriage with Elizabeth Jane Howard, and (perhaps as a result) is even more bitter than earlier novels. Other targets of Amis's brutal and cutting satire include transport and housing, doctors, modern psychology and the education system. Jake himself is satirised, as Amis steps back from his main protagonist and portrays a sad, grumpy old man, out of touch with his world, unable to function in social situations, paralysed by his prejudices.